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Earth Power Politics

4 Prominent Scientists Say Renewables Aren't Enough, Urge Support For Nuclear 776

Posted by timothy
from the which-dragon-to-tickle dept.
First time accepted submitter Paddy_O'Furniture writes "Four prominent scientists have penned a letter urging those concerned about climate change to support nuclear energy, saying that renewables such as wind and solar will not be sufficient to meet the world's energy needs. Among the authors is James Hansen, a former top NASA scientist, whose 1988 testimony before the United States Congress helped launch discussions of global warming into the mainstream."
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4 Prominent Scientists Say Renewables Aren't Enough, Urge Support For Nuclear

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  • thorium (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:38PM (#45318007)

    let's do it right, please. no more melt-downs...

  • by ThePhilips (752041) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:45PM (#45318069) Homepage Journal

    "Those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough" to deliver the amount of cheap and reliable power the world needs

    The cheapness of the energy is IMO the largest part of the problem. We have way too many devices slowly sipping the power, while an average house still leaks way too much of the (heat) energy. We are overconsuming way too many goods (which cost energy to produce) and then go through even more energy wasting to compensate the overconsumption.

  • Correction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fustakrakich (1673220) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:48PM (#45318095) Journal

    Nobody can get obscenely rich from renewable easy to produce energy, therefore it is not, nor will ever be practical.

  • Logic! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by onyxruby (118189) <`onyxruby' `at' `comcast.net'> on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:48PM (#45318097)

    Logic is a wonderful thing and we need more critical thinking and less hyperbole with regards to green energy. Strident hyperbole with regards to the anti-nuclear energy has resulted in the real world build of coal power plants as renewals simply are suitable for baseline power. Coal power plants also release far more pollution and for the ignorant they also result in a lot of radiation being released into the air.

    Nuclear energy is proven, has the lowest pollution, best carbon footprint of anything we have (it's largest footprint comes from the concrete used in it's construction) and could be far cheaper if it wasn't severely over-regulated. Thorium reactors are also starting to get planned for production and deserve a good look (and if fact a proof of concept plant was built in the past). Thorium reactors have the green advantages of nuclear reactors and should be included.

    It's time to get real about getting green and put the likes of Greenpeace out to pasture. They have done far more harm to the environment than just about anyone short of the Koch brothers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:52PM (#45318119)

    I love it when someone like you tells the rest of us how much and what we can consume. It just reconfirms my suspicion that everyone else is an authoritarian at heart.

  • by dnaumov (453672) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:58PM (#45318167)

    2) If every democracy uses uses nuclear power everyone else will want it. And if you have a nuclear plant you have most of the really hard bits of a nuclear weapons program. Untrustworthy countries who probably shouldn't have the temptation of city-vaporizing weapons will want them. And it's kinda hard to convince an Iranian who thinks his country is perfectly trustworthy (to him it's those nasty Israelis you have to worry about) that everyone's life would be so much easier if his country didn't have the physical capability to finish the Holocaust. It's even harder to convince the Israelis, who (probably) currently have nuclear weapons, that everyone's lives would be so much simpler if they just switched to solar.

    In other words if the choices are one or two more degrees of global warming, or letting every country in the world develop nuclear power, we're probably better off living with the warming.

    This is one of the shittiest arguments ever. Out of all countries with nuclear capability, US happens to be the only one who has actually used nuclear weapons against another country. Additionally, the US has started several new wars in the past decade alone. So if we go along with your "trustworthy" line of reasoning, the US should be #1 on the list of countries to be denied any access to nuclear technology.

  • by tepples (727027) <tepples@gmailLION.com minus cat> on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:03PM (#45318199) Homepage Journal
    Would you prefer to consume everything so that your children have nothing left to consume?
  • by NicBenjamin (2124018) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:05PM (#45318217)

    That's kind of my point.

    If the country that helped defeat but the Nazis and the Soviets can't be trusted with nuclear weapons, why the fuck would we insist that all 54 African countries, everyone in Latin America, Asia, etc. has to build reactors capable of producing those weapons? Hell if the Japanese, who aren't known for inferior engineering, can't keep a non-weapons producing facility safe what are the odds that everyone else can pull that shit off?

    Global warming is bad, but if it's a choice between moving all NYC residents to Detroit (we'd actually have room for a quarter of them within the Detroit city limits, the D' population has fallen that much since it's peak in '55), and giving all 192 countries in the world nuclear power then I'm gonna go with moving everyone to fucking Detroit.

    This's one of the dumbest proposals ever.

  • by Joe U (443617) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:08PM (#45318245) Homepage Journal

    Nuclear energy is proven, has the lowest pollution, best carbon footprint of anything we have (it's largest footprint comes from the concrete used in it's construction) and could be far cheaper if it wasn't severely over-regulated.

    Pure bullshit. Those regulations are there to stop the local energy company from cutting corners and blowing up something. Something that they do on a regular basis in non nuclear energy.

    The most dangerous aspect of nuclear energy is the energy company.

  • by JWW (79176) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:09PM (#45318275)

    No, I would prefer for the market to determine the value of rare commodities. Then as rare commodities run out, their prices will rise and we'll look for new inexpensive commodities to fill our needs.

  • by ScottCooperDotNet (929575) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:15PM (#45318347)

    Why does everybody overlook that uranium resources are limited and that what is available today barely can feed the existing reactors? Money talks is the only explanation I have.

    Breeder reactors [wikipedia.org] solved this a long time ago, before enriching uranium [wikipedia.org] became practical.

    Nuclear energy has brought nothing but trouble and wasted shiploads of money.

    Would you prefer more coal plants polluting the air? Hydro-dams preventing fish breeding? Wind turbines slicing birds apart? Every energy-generation system is going to have its drawbacks. Ever play SimCity?

  • Re:Logic! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jonbryce (703250) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:15PM (#45318349) Homepage

    How many square kilometers of land have been made completely uninhabitable for the next 200 years or so as a result of coal power?

  • by ThePhilips (752041) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:19PM (#45318383) Homepage Journal

    The problem is that when the "rare commodities run out," it would lead to a major reshape of our economies, states and societies. Historically that means: poverty and inequality, civil wars and wars.

    IMO on the line here, is to prove that we as civilization are mature enough not to shoot ourselves into the foot.

    Degenerating into primitive fighting over the scarce resources is precisely what society strives to avoid.

  • Re:Thorium wars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kyrsjo (2420192) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:21PM (#45318409)

    Thorium is pretty abundant, so its probably not worth figthing over. Most countries have access to enough of the stuff.

  • by yankeessuck (644423) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:26PM (#45318443)
    This is not politically viable in the US. A large percentage of the population has no problem with the government giving free stuff to companies but then get all up in arms when it gives stuff to the people.
  • energy should be as 'cheap' as the market dictates...which, in a properly competitive market, means really large companies with big time resources would then fund the *best* Research and Development to compete with each other to bring the cheapest & most sustainable (read: clean) energy that modern science can provide

    your idea attempts to solve the right problems, but does it in the most contentions, unworkable way possible...this is why you fail

    see, you identify some problems most would agree with:

    We have way too many devices slowly sipping the power, while an average house still leaks way too much of the (heat) energy. We are overconsuming way too many goods..

    everyone agrees with this...hell even some Republican Wal-Mart executive would agree with this even though they profit from it...

    your solution of purposefully, artificially inflating prices is nothing more than a **giveaway to energy companies for doing nothing**

    your idea guarantees a revenue chain for said energy companies, takes away incentives to do R&D on better technology (instead its marketing R&D), and ensures that the current, **unsustainable** fossil fuel model will continue

    you are way, way off from solving the problems you identify

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:46PM (#45318579) Journal

    Of couse there will "enough" renewables if demand is scaled down by conservation and the price of fossil fuels is raised high enough.

    Didn't take long for "shiver in the dark" environmentalism to raise its ugly head.

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:3, Insightful)

    by duckintheface (710137) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:55PM (#45318659)

    As opposed to "burn it if you've got it" industrialism? No, I said nothing about shivering. But much energy is wasted because it is too cheap. Conservation is the cheapest source of "new" energy supply.

    And I guess if global warming runs it's course, we'll all be to hot to shiver. :)

  • In other words, "third world people should stay in their place."

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:01PM (#45318717) Journal

    No, I said nothing about shivering. But much energy is wasted because it is too cheap. Conservation is the cheapest source of "new" energy supply.

    Only if you ignore the costs. If I'm using energy it's because I get something useful out of it. If I "conserve" by not using that energy, I forego the benefits of that energy. Sure, I could just leave the heat off all year round, I'd save a fortune that way, even accounting for the cost of thermal underwear. But I don't want to live that way.

  • by cbarcus (600114) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:04PM (#45318735)

    To the contrary, energy prices need to come down drastically to help us mitigate the risk of all of the issues we are facing in relation to sustainability. Lowering energy costs is critical for addressing poverty, and it will be vital for combatting global warming. So it isn't that we want fossil fuel costs to go up so that renewables are more competitive which will exasperate the economy, rather, we wish for nuclear power production to become far safer, flexible, efficient, and cost effective to drive fossil fuels out of the market. Completely eliminating fossil use while lowering energy costs must be the goal!

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DamonHD (794830) <d@hd.org> on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:13PM (#45318805) Homepage

    The world is not binary: there's a vast range of possibilities between leaving heating on the entire year and opening the windows when you get too hot to never turning it on.

    Raising the price of energy would help push people away from the stupidity of the first of those (yes, some do), to be just as comfortable and healthy on much less. I've easily managed to halve my energy use while adding two children to my household: it is depressing that some will not even try at the risk of damning their successors...

    Rgds

    Damon

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geoskd (321194) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:28PM (#45318903)

    What assumptions is Hansen making here? Of couse there will "enough" renewables if demand is scaled down by conservation and the price of fossil fuels is raised high enough. Global warming is an externalized envionmental cost of fossil fues. If those costs are internalized in the price of fossil energy, the free market will take care of the problem. Or we can just raise taxes on fossil energy and use the money to build renewables.

    What Hansen is really saying is that there will not be enough renewables if we continue with business as usual, including subsidies to the fossil fuel and nuclear industires. That is true but it relies on the wrong assumtions.

    The basic problem with conservation and demand being reduced by increased cost, is that countries will go to war over energy concerns. This means that if there is even the perception that a country will not have enough energy to meet its wants, then wars will break out as a result. Renewables cannot meet the need yet (if ever), and hydrocarbons are not acceptable for obvious reasons. That effectively leaves nuclear. If we rely on "conservation" to reduce demand, then we are setting ourselves up for failure, because there are far more people in the world who are set to increase their energy usage than there are who are set to decrease. The only way to stop these emerging economies from worsening the problem, is to give them non-hydrocarbon technology, or kill them. The latter is not really practical for a whole host of reasons, and the former is only practical with nuclear power.

    Waiting for the "free market" to solve global warming is like waiting for the Chinese government to solve human rights abuses. It just aint gonna happen any more than Santa Claus is going to give us world peace for Christmas this year.

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by duckintheface (710137) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:45PM (#45319047)

    I live in the most energy efficient house in my county, based on good insulation, solar heating, and thermal mass. We just retrofitted my daughter's house (built in 1968) with insulation in attic, walls and crawl space. Nobody is wearing thermal underwear. Nobody is uncomfortable. And we are saving lots of money by NOT using energy. But "cheap" energy undercuts such efforts. The payback time is too long for most folks if energy stays cheap. But energy is only cheap if you ignore the cost of environmental damage. If that damage were included on your power bill each monty, insulation and solar power would look pretty good.

    From the article: "Those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough" to deliver the amount of cheap and reliable power the world needs, "

    But nuclear power is neither cheap nor reliable. So why do they suggest that as a replacement for renewables. As to the "fast enough" part of that, solar and wind can be ramped up much faster than nuclear. The rationale of the article is not logical.

  • Re:thorium OR ??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geoskd (321194) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:49PM (#45319073)

    Renewables absolutely have the capability to meet out energy needs. Solar alone has reached to point where a sub-$10k installation can power a reasonably efficient house, even in the Northern US; in places that get enough wind (a lot more places than you might expect), a single small turbine can power a house, or a modest sized tower can power an entire neighborhood.

    No, renewables can't meet the demand today, and possibly never will. You have made the classic mistake of assuming your experience is typical of everything everywhere. A typical solar installation is capable only of meeting a normal households power needs part of the time. Even with neighborhood wind turbines, you will not cover 100% of the power needs. Now consider that household power only accounts for 21% of the U.S. energy consumption. The overwhelming majority comes from industrial and commercial power use which has a much higher land density, and simply cannot be covered in any meaningful way with solar or wind power. Now you're back to needing industrial scale power generation which requires massive amounts of land for the scale required by industry and you're back to needing big again. If you covered the entire island of Manhattan (every square inch of exposed surface) with solar panels, you would only add up to about 1/4 of the total power demand. Sure you have lots of open space in Arizona, but you have to get the power from Arizona to Manhattan and its just not that simple. Also, how much deforestation are you willing to undertake to supply the energy needs of industrialized nations?

    You are a very large part of the problem. Your arguments are bunk and fail to stand up to the realities of the world, and yet on the surface sound plausible enough to convince at least three moderators to mod you up on Slashdot (which I like to think has a smarter than average population). You and your ilk will have us so paralyzed following dead end projects that we'll all end up cooked thoroughly from global warming before any one of you will even be willing to concede that you're not half as smart as you think you are.

    A group of very intelligent individuals from some of the most highly recognized institutions of the world tells you that renewables cannot be made sufficient to stop global warming, and you are going to tell the rest of us that they are wrong because of your own anecdotal experience? I think its high time we started calling your type out for the BS you're spewing.

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jmc23 (2353706) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:55PM (#45319111) Journal

    The basic problem with conservation and demand being reduced by increased cost, is that THE USA will go to war over energy concerns.

    There, fixed that for you.

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:07PM (#45319157)

    Well I for one am against the freedom of "free to piss into common drinking water well" kind!
    Whoever confuses personal commodity with freedom deserves none!

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:09PM (#45319179) Journal

    I'm throwing a flag, bullshit on the field. The ones using the most wasteful energy can WELL afford any bullshit price hikes you an come up with, won't stop Rev Al Gore from farting around in a one man lear jet or having a fleet of SUVs like he's El Presidente, the ONLY ONES that price hikes hurt are the ones who can least afford it and who AL.READY CONSERVE and that is of course the poor.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again the answer is NOT price hikes, just the opposite in fact, its making better choices cheap enough the masses can easily afford it. Why does the USA use so much gas? Because the average MPG is just 14 here, but why? Because the poor can only afford used cars for the most part and the cheapest ones are also piggies. What you need is a "people's car/truck" that runs on diesel so you can switch to biofuels when they are viable, gets a minimum of 40MPG and cots no more than $20K and then use "cash for clunkers" style program along with subsidies to get the poor out of the old gas hogs.

    But I just love how the greenies want to fuck everybody with price hikes because THEY can afford them while ignoring that even a 40c a gallon gas hike raises the cost of food enough that more Americans will be going hungry. When you add to that a right wing owned by the "let 'em die!" teabaggers trying to gut food stamps and any other aid to the poor a price hike is the LAST fucking thing we need, too many are already going hungry as it is.

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:57PM (#45319473) Homepage Journal

    Your assumption that it is only practical with nuclear power is wrong on many frontiers.
    Japan is a 1st world country and can not handle the aftermath of Fukushima. The Soviet Union is minimum 2nd wordl, if not 1st world as well and can mot handle the aftermath of Chernobyl.
    So, you want now nuclear power in the hands of 2nd and 3rd world nations? What exactly is practical about this? Where do you get the workers managing the plants?
    The next thing about practical is: you have no clue about how an electric power grid operates. Or how a juclear plant actually works. It is pretty hard to run a grid with more than 50% nuclear power. The reason is if a plant gets powered up about certain ranges it is pretty difficult to power it down (quickly) in other words you can not use it good as a load following plant. The same is true in reverse, if you have powered down a nuclear plant to react on a power fluctuation, it takes hours or days that you are able to power it up again, so you can ot follow the load.

    So, NO: there is absolutely nothing "practical" in building nuclear plants in 2nd and 3rd world nations. And there is also nothing practical in increasing the amount of nuclear plants e.g. in the USA.

  • by cartman (18204) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:45PM (#45319749)

    Why does everybody overlook that uranium resources are limited and that what is available today barely can feed the existing reactors?

    Because the claim isn't true.

    Nuclear energy has brought nothing but trouble and wasted shiploads of money.

    What? Nuclear energy has provided almost 20% of electricity worldwide and has powered entire first-world countries such as France. It has averted millions of deaths (over 30+ years) that would have occurred if we had burned coal instead. Is that really "nothing"? Is it really a waste of money?

  • Re:thorium OR ??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ilsaloving (1534307) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @05:25PM (#45319997)

    Please don't handwave "logistics" as if it's triviality. Logistics is a significant issue, IMO bigger than generating the power to begin with.

    You say we can just lay down lots of superconducting cable? A quick google search tells me that last year, the "worlds largest" installation of superconducting cable was being deployed. How big is "worlds largest"? One kilometer.

    For a long time now, we've had the ability to generated power in a variety of different ways. Getting the power delivered exactly where and when it needs to be, is a different story, as is far from a 'known solution'.

    Combine that with NIMBYs and such, I'm not optimistic that we can get our collective thumbs out and do what needs to be done. Hell, the gov't of Ontario managed to squander several hundred million dollars in an (successful) effort to satisfy said NIMBYers.

  • It is about SPEED (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Artagel (114272) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @05:33PM (#45320043) Homepage

    Hansen's principal point is moving fast enough. His point is that if you are too slow, certain irreversible things will happen. Therefore you have to go with currently executable plans. The United States went dam-happy after Hoover dam, so it is not like we have hydropower waiting to happen. Nuclear is the one thing that we can execute on large scales to provide 24x7x365 power for many nations right now.

    Hansen's problems are not with leading engineers. They are with politicians, activists, amatueur busy-body fearmongers and their me-too hangers on. He thinks a tipping point is coming, and that the other side of that tipping point outweighs any worry you have about nuclear power. And you can theorize all you want about your solar panels, windmills, etc. Nuclear is what has been proven to provide a substantial portion of world power without carbon load.

    He is not interested in theories. He is interested in precedented engineering. Nuclear provides 20% or so of electricity in the U.S. today, around 80% in France. There is no "renewable" that provides so much power to a major country today.

    The fact is that a lot of the global warming band wagoners are only on board so they can bash the same enemies they have been bashing for 40 years. When they hear they have to team up with some of their old enemies or the world is going to flood, well, they get off the bandwagon. They do not give an actual rats ass about the planet. They forgot about it 30 years ago.

  • Re:Assumptions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @06:46PM (#45320525) Journal
    That's fine for dropping energy usage somewhat in the US and other developed countries, but the biggest cost coming up is the billions of people in India, China, and other developing countries who are scaling up their energy usage. These are people who never had air conditioning before, and are going to start wanting it. You'll need more than tariffs and subsidies for these people.

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